Friday, January 25, 2013

Commonly Misspelled Words in Fiction

by Jill Williamson


Ever been reading a book and found an error? I have. Even in my own books. I’ve also heard people rant in person and online, “How could authors not edit their books?”

As a published author, I’d like to point out that such a statement is an unfair assumption.

A reader should not blame the author for all errors in a book. There’s a whole team that is involved in making a book, and errors can happen anywhere in the publishing process. There have been times when I found errors in my book that I knew happened when I asked them to fix something during the final proofing stage and a typo happened there.

And there have also been typos that were my fault and everyone missed.

Did you know that if you find errors in a book, you can email them to the publisher? Publishers have a file for such notes, and if a book goes into a second printing, the publisher can correct the errors. So you never know, your email just might get the book fixed the next time around.

Some authors hate to get emails about errors. They feel like it’s very rude. I don’t mind. Because I know that these things happen, and I want to get them fixed. But if you email and author and they never write back or respond with some snark in their tone, have mercy. You’ll never know the journey they traveled for that book; it could have been a stressful one that they don’t care to relive.

All that to say, for authors, it’s your name on the front of that book, and you need to do the best job you can perfecting your manuscript. So I want to talk about misspelled words today.

Biggest rule?
Spell check. With instant spell check, I forget to do an overall one sometimes. Bad move. When you are done with the book, and right before you turn it in, SPELL CHECK! Don’t forget.

Second biggest rule?
Do not rely on spell check alone. You have to read the thing again and again. Enlist friends to read it. This should be done at the very end. Don’t ask people to read for spelling and grammar before you do a rewrite. Don’t abuse these precious volunteers. And once you find someone who catches things better than anyone, hang on to them, even if you have to pay them. He is a priceless contact.

The following is a list of words that are commonly misspelled, most of which spell check will not catch for you. Check these out:

Jill’s Top Three Pet Peeve Misspellings
A lot- I’ve seen writers spell this as “a lot”, but it is two words: a lot. There is no exception.

All right- Many people spell this as one word: alright. And while most dictionaries list it as a legitimate word, most publishers don’t. “Alright” is considered a slang spelling. I recommend using the two word spelling, unless you’re in dialogue.

Lightning- Seems simple enough, but I’ve seen it spelled with an “e” many times. But the word “lightening” means two things: 1. To become lighter in weight or brightness, or, 2. The decent of the uterus into the pelvic cavity, just before a woman gives birth. Try not to make this spelling error.

Usage errors
Most of us know the differences between these words, but we’re typing so fast, and we neglect to do a good proofing and mistakes are made. Watch for these as you proofread. They can be sneaky.

they’re/there/their
it’s/its
your/you’re

Publisher’s preference
Every publisher has their own style guidelines. When I signed my contract with Zondervan/HarperCollins, they sent me a manual and a style guide to use for reference. Here are some words that publishers will make the final call on. And for you that means, pick one way and stick with it for these words and you’ll be fine. If the publisher wants to change it later, they will.

Backward(s) and other words that end in “ward(s).” For example: toward, forward, afterward. I’ve heard that the European spelling uses an “s” and the US spelling does not. If you are trying to get published in the US, drop the “s” from all of these “ward” words.

OK vs. okay vs. ok- Most publishers prefer the spelling “okay,” so I suggest you stick with that one. But if you get a contract and your editor changes it, it’s no big deal.

Grey vs. gray- This is another US/European difference. “Gray” is the popular US spelling, so if you’re writing for the US, use “gray.” Jeff Gerke likes “grey,” and he and my Zondervan editor had a discussion in my edits about it. Jeff said that he knows “grey” is European, but he prefers it for Marcher Lord Press, which Jacque said Zondervan uses “gray.”

Blonde vs. blond- There’s a lot of changes here. Blond(e) used to be a masculine/feminine word.  Ex: The blond guy, the blonde woman. That’s changed. Now, “blond” is the word for the color of hair, no matter the sex of the character. And “blonde” is only used as a noun for a blond woman. Tricky, I know. Despite this, my Zondervan editor said that they still abide by the masculine/feminine rules in their style book, and she changed my spellings. So there you go. Clear as chocolate milk.

T-shirt- I’ve seen this word spelled all kinds of ways, but the correct spelling is with a capital T and a hyphen.

Watch out for these other tricky words
accept/ except
advice/advise
affect/effect
aid/aide
aisle/isle
all ready/already
all together/altogether
any more/anymore
a while/awhile
breath/breathe
callous/callus
capital/capitol
cite/sight/site
coarse/course
complement/compliment
conscious/conscience
council/counsel
desert/dessert
discreet/discrete
ensure/insure
farther/further
fliers/flyers
foreword/forward
here/hear
lead/led
lose/loose
nauseated/nauseous
passes/past
peaked/peeked/piqued
personal/personnel
pore/pour
premier/premiere
principal/principle
prophecy/prophesy
raise/rise
reign/rein
stationary/stationery
weather/whether
who’s/whose

In dialogue
If you’re doing it to create character, you may ignore spelling and grammar rules within dialogue. But do it carefully and specifically to each character. I’m going to blog about this in a few weeks and give specific examples. Dialogue is one of the best places to characterize.

Yes, this is a tedious process, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Sure, mistakes happen, but you’ll start to instinctively know some of those tricky spellings. You’ll also learn which misspellings you tend to make over and over, and you’ll be able to make a list of them and check them every time.

Which words get you every time?

64 comments:

  1. This post is so helpful! For the longest time I've been wondering whether to add an "s" to the end of "-ward" words. Also, the spelling of "gray/grey" always messed me up. Without thinking about it too much, I'll type a version of the word and then later as I read through my story I realize I used both versions at different times. Now I know to use gray instead of grey. :)
    Thanks for the post!

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    1. You're welcome, Micheila! Glad it helped. :-)

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  2. I've read several books with typos, and, while it can be annoying, I try to brush it off. I realize that when making a book, there is so much to do, it's okay that they just missed one thing.

    I had an e-book once, though that had continuous typos. Every time they used the word "I" they used a "1" instead. It was actually kind of funny. :)

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  3. Very helpful post, Jill, thank you. I always have a difficulty with words that are written differently in American or European English, like for example grey/gray. English is not my first language, and have always been taught European English. But there are so many American influences all over the place always, that I tend to mix words like that up. Highly annoying

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    1. I bet it's maddening for you, Arlette. Color and flavor also come to mind in that regard. Well, from what I see from your comments, you speak and write English very well. And English is a rough language to learn! So, I'm very impressed. :-)

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    2. Oh yes colour and flavour are words like that as well that can literally drive you crazy. Luckily spelling control picks out most of those words at least. And thank you Jill!

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  4. The usage errors drive me NUTS, and I've always wondered about backward/backwards. :P

    And this is really interesting. I just finished a chapter in my English book on correct word usage. This is a good review and a reminder to not forget what I just spent a month learning. ;)

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    1. LOL Ah, English homework. So, you're getting a double dosage, huh?

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  5. All right! I was always confused about that one, because my word processor said both were correct, awhile... still trying to figure that out. :P And sometimes I might add S... Looks like I have some grammar checking to do!

    Thanks for the article! It was fantastic! :D

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    1. Tricky one, Bethany!

      a while is a noun and is a period of time. "Let's sit for a while."
      awhile is an adverb and means for a period of time. "Come and sit awhile." Awhile in this sentence ads to the verb "sit."

      A good trick to help know which to use is to substitute another adverb and see if it makes sense. Ex: "Let's sit for a softly." --Doesn't work, so this should be "a while."

      Ex: "Come and sit softly." It may sound odd, but it makes sense, so "awhile" is correct in this sentence.

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  6. This post is very VERY helpful. I agree with Arlette. English is my second language and we are taught British English at school but American English is way more popular even here. So I'm always confusing my words.

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    1. I'm so impressed by your ESL writers! You're doing a great job. Stick with it, Sania. I'm sorry you have such a confusing situation, but you're doing great, imo(in my opinion). :-)

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  7. I certainly have picked up some useful tips here! I had no idea about the differences between words like blond/blonde.

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    1. That you picked up useful tips, not that you had no idea about blond/blonde... yeah. lol

      Jill's typing too fast again!

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  8. Thank you for this post! Grammar is my weak point, and i need all the help i can get! And thank you for clearing up the whole blonde/blond thing. I thought 'Blonde' was the personality type, and 'Blond' was the hair color!:)

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    1. By the way, how do you spell blonde when referring to the personality type?

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    2. Blonde, as in a female woman with yellow hair. Even if someone calls a guy a blonde, the insult is to infer that he's behaving like a woman with yellow hair who's not too smart.

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  9. I was literally thinking about this yesterday - you read my mind! And answered all my questions, except one - how do you spell "brunette" when referring to a boy? Some sites say its the same, others say "brunet", some just say to steer clear of the word altogether, but saying that my character was "brown-haired" would sound weird in my sentence and mess up the pacing! What would you suggest??? Thanks xxx

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    1. I'm not sure. You could say he had dark hair...?

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    2. Yes, it's correct to say brunet for a boy. This comes from the French language. But, honestly, I wouldn't use the word brunet at all. It's a little old fashioned. I'd stick with saying light or dark brown hair. My two cents on that.

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    3. Okay. Thanks so much for clearing that up so quickly, I really appreciate it! :) x

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  10. I felt really bad when someone sent me a list of all the misspelled words in my book, until I realized compared to 118,000 words, a handful wasn't that much lol.

    Did you do this on purpose? "And once you find someone who catches things better than anyone, hand on to them, even if you have to pay them." I don't think I want to hand on to them ;) Hang on maybe.

    I found a jewel of a person who can catch mistakes like no one's business. I will definitely do everything to keep her :)

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    1. Yup, noticed that too...but figured not on purpose and didn't particularly feel like mentioning it...LOL

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    2. I hear you, Morgan. Misspellings in your published book is frustrating. But spread out over 118,000 pages, hopefully no one notices them. lol

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    3. Oh dear, I didn't mean to put you on the spot. I thought it was a good example of how we all miss words. After all, we're all human, right? ;)

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    4. I am most definitely human. And I love to fix my mistakes, so thanks for pointing it out, Morgan. :-)

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  11. Thank you for this! The rules for "All right", "Backward(s)", "Grey vs. Gray" and "Blonde vs. Blond" were particularly helpful and relevant for my WIP, and I just went through and fixed all of my "toward"s. ;) I also want to thank you for your Punctuation 101 posts--I recently went through the ones on colons, semi-colons, dashes and ellipses, and I think I've finally got a grasp on when to properly use each one! (And of course, once I'd gotten it straight, I then proceeded to go through my WIP and fix them all. ;) So thanks for all of the tips, they're very much appreciated!

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    1. Oh, that's great, Taylor. I'm glad the posts have been helpful and that you've put them into action. Good job!

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  12. Thanks for this post! Here in NZ, we use British English, but we're used to American English too from books, etc. Knowing which version of things like backward/s to use will be useful if I ever get to the publishing stage.

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    1. You're welcome, Kate. NZ! I want to come visit. :-)

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  13. This will be a great post to reference in the future. Thank you. As for which words mess me up, they're/their always kills me.

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    1. Oh me too! I know the difference, but if I'm really into the scene, ill make mistakes like that allllll the time.

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    2. Oh me too! I know the difference, but if I'm really into the scene, ill make mistakes like that allllll the time.

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  14. I always wondered about the backward vs backwards. I prefer blonde for hair no matter the gender and grey in general. I think that if someone was deciding whether to take me on as an author they probably wouldn't say know because I use the European version of grey. Very helpful post, Jill! [ps, you forgot an S in dessert :)]

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    1. Gah! Thanks, Kaitlin. I fixed that too. :-)

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  15. Blonde and Blond always got me all mixed up....that about cleared it...now I have to remember.... One way I like to remember Dessert and Desert is that there are 2 S's in Strawberry Shortcake which is a dessert and there's one S in Sand which is in a desert

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    1. Ooh, nice tip, Jenna! I always remembered that dessert has two S's because we always want more dessert. :-)

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  16. Waist and Waste have always given me trouble as well -_- this list was so helpful though! :D I will be referring to it often.

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  17. Ah! The blond vs. blonde makes sense. I've always stumbled over that one. I get really confused with the American vs. English spellings. I'm in Australia, but I have a few American friends editing my work and we come stuck on a lot of words.

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    1. Ooh, Australia! I want to come visit you too, Cait. :-)

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  18. I hate it when people spell you're as your.

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    1. Yeah, me too, though I've caught myself having done it too. When you get typing super fast, sometimes your fingers do what they want.

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  19. Oh! This was actually really interesting, thanks Jill! I like the look of 'alright' but had no idea it wasn't the right way in the publishing world! And 'blond' 'blonde', that's interesting.

    I still get a little excited when I see a mistake in a book, like I'm practicing to be an editor or something, haha. But gosh there's nothing wrong with a mistake! :)

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    1. Ooh, maybe you'll be an editor someday, Emii. It's a great place to be if you want to get published, too. :-)

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  20. I hadn't even noticed that it matters if you used gray or grey or blonde or blond. I tend to use grey and blonde so I better change that! Thanks for the post.

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    1. You're welcome, Natalie. With grey/gray and blond/blonde, I don't think an editor or agent would reject you for that. Still, it's good to make a choice for yourself which you'll use and stick with it.

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  21. I tend to get "sense" and "since" mixed up all the time : )

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  22. Anyone catch grammar and spelling errors at church when the lyrics to songs are posted on the screen? Sometimes I wish I could shut off that internal editor!

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  23. I do that all the time - usually it's puncuation errors, though. Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who understands commas...

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  24. From Amo Libros:
    Great post! Definitely going in my bookmarks!
    I've never had trouble with "grey/gray", but "blonde/blond" has always given me trouble. It's nice to know which version of "ok" (OK, Okay, etc.) publishers prefer. "Toward/s" has always been tricky, because when I say it in my head (a second or two ahead of my fingers) I'll say it either way. Now I know!
    What's the difference between "affect" and "effect"? I know there is one, because you say "special effects" and "no effect" but something will "affect" someone...is "affect" the verb and "effect" the noun? No one's been able to explain this one properly...

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    1. Yes. The effect is the result when something is affected - if that sentence makes any sense. Hablas espanol? Yo tambien! :)

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    2. So for example, just in case my last sentence didn't make sense:

      Punctuation affects the pacing in writing. The effect is a faster or slower sentence.

      Does that clear it up? :)

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    3. From Amo Libros:
      Beautifully, thank you!

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    4. Thanks, Choco. Great explanation. :-)

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  25. Jill, thank you for writing this article. I've had my new book proofread and edited numerous times. Then it was sent to the page designer. When I received her formatted copy, I printed the entire document (approximately 320 pages) and I found dozens of needed changes, including misspelled words. Some of the letters in my words were typed incorrectly. I meant to spell them one way, but they came out another. For instance, "from" and "form." Now, I'm looking for other words that I may have mis-typed. You clarified a couple of word rules for me, all right and blonde. Thanks again.

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Disagreement is welcome. Rudeness is not. Please be considerate of each other!